Earl Wild once took "Rhapsody in Blue" on
a tour of 50 American cities with the original interpreters, the Paul
Whiteman Band. I read this after listening for the first time, and I
had just been noting a certain tendency to "over-interpret",
with ritardandos, pauses and tempo changes all a little overdone compared
with the free and easy Paul Whiteman recording of 1927 with Gershwin
himself at the piano. Maybe a touch of middle-aged spread entered into
the act with the years. But on listening again, this time without a
score, I felt maybe I had made too much of this, for here is decidedly
superior pianism and Fiedler is as close to Whiteman in general style
as anyone can be with a full symphony orchestra. There is not the riveting
quality of the Bernstein version which seems to recompose the music
on the spot, but (and this is the miracle!) without in any way going
against the letter of the score, but it’s very fine all the same.
About the other works there is little to say. The other
two pieces with piano are all you could wish for (the finale of the
Concerto lacks little in verve beside Gershwin’s own fragmentary recording)
and Fiedler on his own gives a lithe rendering of "An American
in Paris", keeping the blues theme well on the move and supplying
plenty of brilliance in the final Charleston. Unlike the Ozawa version
I heard recently, this will remind nobody of Elgar’s "Cockaigne".
If I end up by recommending this as a decent basic-Gershwin
package for first-timers rather than a great historical document this
is partly because Wild, for all his proficiency, does not play with
a great deal of personality, and partly because the elderly recording
gives the piano a rather featureless sound and allows the famous Boston
reverberation to swamp orchestral clarity at times.
The booklet tells us that Fiedler succeeded Alfredo
Casella as conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra in 1930. This was
a new one on me. Could the acerbic follower of Stravinsky, Italy’s leading
modernist alongside Malipiero from the ’20s through to the ’40s and
a composer of some stature, really have conducted the Boston Pops? Well,
an American Internet site gives quite an extensive history of the Boston
Pops and assures us that Fiedler’s immediate predecessor was "the
distinguished Italian composer Alfredo Casella", but I am quite
certain this must be wrong and the gentleman in question must be a namesake.
Several Italian sites give information on Casella and his activities
around 1930 seem fully accounted for, and leave no space for a spell
in Boston. Apart from the sheer implausibility of it, to anyone acquainted
with the music Casella was writing around that time.